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Authors: Roberta Gellis

A Woman's Estate

An Ellora’s Cave Romantica Publication

www.ellorascave.com

 

 

 

A Woman’s Estate

 

ISBN 9781419921315

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

A Woman’s Estate Copyright © 1984, 2009 Roberta Gellis

 

Cover art by Dar Albert

 

Electronic book Publication July 2009

 

The terms Romantica® and Quickies® are
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With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not
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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons,
living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The
characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

A Woman’s Estate

Roberta Gellis

 

Chapter One

 

“The most seemingly tender mothers can turn out to be
exceedingly cruel and treacherous creatures,” Sir Arthur St. Eyre said. The
plaintive tone of his remark fitted ill with Sir Arthur’s powerful frame, well
displayed by a coat and breeches molded to him by the best tailor in London, or
with his expression of aristocratic hauteur.

Roger St. Eyre, Sir Arthur’s half uncle, guffawed, and
Bertram Lydden, his secretary, tittered delicately behind a fine, scented
handkerchief, which he held to his lips. Neither paid any attention to Sir
Arthur’s expression, partly because they were accustomed to it, but more
because they were aware it was an accidental result of Arthur’s features. A
long, narrow face, topped by carefully dressed brown hair over a high forehead,
was dominated by a high-bridged, aquiline nose that gave Arthur’s rather
heavy-lidded eyes the appearance of staring haughtily down its prominence.
Unfortunately, the formation of his upper face added a supercilious tinge to
the good-humored upward quirking at the corners of his well-shaped lips.

“You are spoiled,” Roger said, his blue eyes sparkling just
as brightly as they had in his youth, although his thinning hair was gray and
his face showed the marks of fifty-seven hard years. “You have worked Violet as
if she were a dray horse, Arthur. Your mother has a right to a little peace.
Between the diplomatic tangles Austria and Russia are making and the damned
American war, this last Season was very hard on her.”

“If you ask me,” Arthur replied, “it was Joseph and Irma who
wore her out. After all, it wasn’t until she went out to Nichée d’Amour—”

He hesitated over the words, Roger wrinkled his nose in
distaste, and Bertram shuddered delicately. All the years had not accustomed
any of them to the fact that Arthur’s sister-in-law had named her house “Love
Nest”.

But the negative reactions were automatic. Roger was so
surprised by what Arthur had said, because he knew Arthur to be fond of his
younger brother and heir, that he protested, “Oh, come now, Arthur,” before he
noticed the lazy fall of the younger man’s eyelids, which betrayed that Arthur
knew he was being outrageous.

“Well, wouldn’t it wear
you
out to be told every five
minutes to sit down and rest or to put on a muffler if you were going out—and
out for the appalling purpose, no doubt, of inspecting Joseph’s endless array
of boars and sows and their squirming litters?”

“No,” Roger answered blandly, giving no sign that he knew he
had been caught by Arthur’s teasing. “Pigs are very restful creatures.”
However, he said nothing about Irma’s all-too-constant care for every person,
young or old, who came within her reach. Irma was the kindest of women, but her
unremitting and unquenchable quest to provide safety and comfort for others did
tend to rub the nerves.

Bertram giggled again. “But if you find Irma so wearing,
Arthur, and Violet persists in her intention of living in Bath, what will you
do for a hostess?”

“You could always stop entertaining politically,” Roger
suggested quickly. “That would probably be more of a relief to your own party
than to mine.”

“Or he could marry,” Bertram offered, flicking the
handkerchief and inserting it into his sleeve.

“A man with such kind and sympathetic friends,” Arthur
drawled, “might be excused for seeking comfort in the bosom of his enemies. Was
there one sprig displayed at the marriage mart this Season whom
you
would recommend, my dear Bertram?”

“Oh, several,” Bertram replied. “If I had the wherewithal,
I’m sure I would marry.” He languidly waved graceful fingers. “But as my tastes
tend to luxury and my good sense informs me that love in a cottage soon
degenerates to boredom or hatred, I am spared needing to make a decision among
the lovely flowerlets.”

“Bah!” Arthur replied. “You know I would murder any girl who
threatened to remove you from my employ. Your system of managing my affairs is
unique. I would fall into ruin if you left me, because neither I nor anyone
else could disentangle it.”

“But there is no need to choose a sprig from the marriage
mart,” Roger interrupted mischievously. “There are any number of women somewhat
nearer your own advanced years who, for lack of dowry or because of…er…other
minor faults—”

“Like a double squint,” Arthur said sardonically.

“Now, now. That would be an unusual case. But if you feel
all girls who could not make suitable matches in their first few Seasons have
such disabilities, how about a handsome young widow?”

“What? And sleep three to a marriage bed?” Arthur exclaimed.
“Not for me! I have no mind to spend my time hearing that I do not measure up
to a safely buried—and therefore perfect—mate.”

“I am afraid he is incorrigible,” Bertram said to Roger. “No
matter what you say, he will find an adequate reason to avoid taking a wife.”

“That is perfectly true,” Arthur agreed. “No one knows me
better than Bertram. And in any case, I invited you here, my dear and devoted
uncle, to talk about the country’s affairs, not mine.”

“You started it,” Roger said mildly, “by complaining about
Violet.”

“Well,
you
let it get out of hand,” Arthur rejoined,
the plaintive note coming back into his voice. “You were supposed to sympathize
briefly and then disclose the information I wanted, feeling that I had been
harshly used and needed cheering.”

Roger first closed his eyes, then reopened them and raised
them to heaven. “Does it not trouble you at all that we are of opposite
political persuasions and that giving you information might smack of disloyalty
to more partisan Tories than I?”

“Nonsense,” Arthur said cheerfully. “You’ve just been saying
that the Whigs like me less than the Tories—and you have never been a party
man. You aren’t even in the government. And you don’t have a seat in the
Commons.”

“But I’m one of Liverpool’s friends,” Roger protested, “and
much of what he tells me is in confidence.”

“That might be more significant,” Arthur pointed out, “if we
had opposing views about the information I want, but you know we do not. I am
as eager as anyone in the government to support Wellington and the war in
Spain. What’s more, I agree completely that Bonaparte must be removed from
power or some method devised to contain and control him.”

“Do you think the latter possible?” Roger asked.

“Frankly, no,” Arthur replied. “Bonaparte is far too clever
and completely unscrupulous. You know he will promise anything, then do his
best to cause dissension among Russia, Prussia and Austria—no very difficult
matter, after all—and as soon as he has gathered strength, attack again.”

Roger sighed. “It won’t need Bonaparte to cause dissension.
Russia wants Austria’s Galician territories and whatever Prussia controlled of
Poland. To obtain Prussia’s agreement, the tsar offered King Frederick most of
Saxony, on the interesting grounds that the king of Saxony had been Bonaparte’s
ally—”

“But they’ve
all
been allies of France at one time or
another,” Bertram interrupted.

“Yes, well, I suppose they feel it indelicate to remember
that just at this moment.” Arthur’s lips curled with cynical amusement.

“It would certainly be inexpedient,” Roger remarked,
smiling, “but I think
indelicate
is probably just the right word in this
case. I have seldom come across a man more eager to deceive himself than Tsar
Alexander.”

“Perhaps so, but I don’t think the emperor of Austria would
be willing to cooperate in this particular self-deception,” Arthur said.

“Well, no,” Roger agreed, his lips twisting wryly, “although
I doubt Emperor Francis himself is the one who has taken notice of it. I
understand he prefers making toffee to conducting diplomatic business.”

Bertram flicked his handkerchief out of his sleeve and
patted his brow and lips gently. “Oh, so do I,” he murmured.

“Just as well for Austria, probably,” Arthur commented,
flashing an amused glance at his secretary, who, for reasons completely obscure
to his employer, always pretended he was a fool. “Metternich has ten times the
emperor’s brains.”

“Just as well for us too,” Roger commented. “Metternich is
not only clever but sensible, and since he isn’t Austrian, his loyalty is never
blind, though it’s perfectly firm. However, I don’t believe even Metternich
would agree to cede Polish Galicia to Alexander. After all, one can understand
that Austria would greatly prefer not to have Russia dominating territories
right on her border. It would be much more to Austrian advantage to have a
weak, divided state there. What’s more, for years there’s been a tug of war
between Prussia and Austria over control of those German statelets between
them. If King Frederick gets Saxony, the balance will swing toward Prussian
predominance.”

“Obviously, then, pushing France back behind its natural
boundaries and leaving Bonaparte in charge is foolish,” Arthur said. “No matter
how the cake is divided, no one will be satisfied—and the greater the
satisfaction of one, the more indignant and ill at ease the others will be.
Ridiculous! Boney will have them at each other’s throats in no time. He must be
got rid of completely.”

“Easy enough to say,” Roger sighed, “but who the devil is
going to do it? Granted that the army Boney has now is not the quality of the
one destroyed in the retreat from Russia and that a good many of his best
officers are dead, or minding their own affairs, like Murat and Bernadotte. He
still managed to defeat the Russians at Lützen.”

“That so-called victory must have hurt Bonaparte as much as
the defeat hurt the Russians, perhaps even more…” Arthur’s voice rose a little,
giving his statement an unfinished, almost challenging tone.

“You do have large, flapping ears, don’t you?” Roger
remarked, raising his expressive brows. “Where did you hear that an armistice
has been proposed?”

Arthur laughed. “At a tea party, of course.”

“Don’t tell me Leonie or Sabrina let it slip!” Roger
exclaimed.

“No, certainly not,” Arthur assured him. “I haven’t seen
Leonie, and you can’t believe
Sabrina
would be indiscreet, even to me.
If you want the truth, Lady Jersey just whispered a word into my ear.”

Roger groaned. “If I have warned Liverpool once, I have
warned him a hundred times not to tell Prince George anything until he wants it
to be common knowledge.”

“He must tell the regent
something
,” Bertram put in
soothingly. “After all, he is officially our monarch, even if he has odd tastes
in mistresses, and news of the possibility of an armistice seems harmless.”

“It is harmless,” Roger agreed, but his voice was tart with
displeasure. “It’s just an example of the way information, sometimes important
information, gets spread around.”

Arthur shrugged, dismissing a problem for which he was
certain there was not, and would never be, any solution. “But if Boney agreed
to an armistice, he must have been hurt. I think if Wellington can bring off a
victory in Spain, Austria will declare war against Boney, too.”

“Very likely,” Roger said, amusement replacing his pique,
“but even so, to get back to our original point, I have strong doubts that
there will be any demand that Bonaparte give up his throne. Don’t forget that
he is married to Emperor Francis’ daughter, so Francis is not going to agree
easily to Bonaparte’s deposition. And while Alexander likes to think of himself
as the ‘savior of Europe’, he really prefers the French to us. In fact, I
believe the tsar is half convinced of the truth of Boney’s claim that it is
English ‘inveterate hatred’ that has driven him to wars of conquest. Frederick
William will, of course, be too cautious to agree to deposition, in case Boney
should somehow return to power and hold it against him.”

“Then it will be up to us to insist,” Arthur said firmly. “I
shall raise a Question in Parliament on the subject—and it will also serve the
purpose of showing that every support must be given Wellington in Spain.”

“There is the little problem of the American war,” Roger
remarked dryly. “However inept the Americans are, there must be
some
troops to oppose them, or they will overrun Canada.”

“It would be much more sensible to make peace with the
United States,” Arthur said aggressively. He knew that the sentiment he had
voiced was not popular. By and large the public and the majority in the House
of Commons were vociferously demanding that America be beaten to its knees for
daring to protest measures the British believed necessary for their national
security. “Never have I heard of such a stupid war. It is totally purposeless,
nothing but a minor nuisance—”

“I quite agree,” Roger interrupted, laughing, “but we did not
start it, and we must protect Canada. It is no fault of ours that the United
States declared war two days before the arrival of the ship carrying the news
that their principal cause of complaint had been removed.”

“That may be true,” Arthur conceded, “but it is no reason to
refuse to negotiate now. To send more troops to Canada is ridiculous. They are
far more urgently needed in Spain or Europe. If that stupid business in America
were settled, perhaps we might even have a division or two to add to the Prussian-Russian
coalition—”

“You are being carried away.” There was reproof in Roger’s
voice. “I do not really think you would like to hand over British troops to a
Prussian or Russian general to use as he pleases. And to send troops with
officers empowered to refuse to carry out the orders of the overall commander
would only increase the conviction that England will not fight.”

“What the devil do they think we are doing in Spain and
Portugal?” Arthur demanded loudly.

“Dear Arthur.” Bertram’s light voice somehow managed to cut
across his employer’s rising excitement. “You know perfectly well that Russia
and Prussia are indifferent to what happens to Spain and Portugal. There is no
sense shouting at Roger about it.”

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